The 4 best prebiotic supplements
You've probably heard that prebiotics can help your probiotic work more effectively, and it's true that there's a synergistic effect. "Prebiotics are the food for probiotics," explains New York City-based dietician Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD, who adds that "prebiotic fibers fuel the healthy flora in your intestines." But the best prebiotic supplements not only boost your probiotic, but they offer important benefits in their own right.
Prebiotics have some weird but crucial benefits that affect your daily life. "They can help people to form large stools, something that may alleviate the bloating, pain, and diarrhea associated with irritable bowel diseases," says Alex Turnbull, RD, a registered dietician and advisor to Jetson Probiotics. "Prebiotics may also have another beneficial impact on the body: increasing the production of short-chain fatty acids that reduce inflammation."
Similar to how probiotics contain different bacterial strains, prebiotics come from a variety of different fiber sources, and some are more effective than others.
Prebiotic sources to look for
Incorporating prebiotic-rich foods into your diet is a good place to start. That said, there are also food-based supplements that are easy to take and for your body to absorb. Turnbull says to look for capsules that "provide fiber found in everyday foods such as inulin or fructooligosaccharides (FOS). Most supplements use fiber from plants like chicory because it both nourishes the beneficial bacteria and inhibits the bad kind."
To further that thought, Kylene Bogden, RDN, a Cleveland-based dietitian who specializes in functional nutrition, suggests looking for these four compounds while shopping for a quality prebiotic:
- Inulin, a form of dietary fiber
- Oligofructose, a subgroup of non-digestible inulin fiber
- Fructooligosaccharides (FOS), a non-digestible carbohydrate
- Galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS), a soluble dietary fiber derived from the lactose in cow's milk, beans, or certain root vegetables
How much should you take?
It's important to underscore that your daily dose of a prebiotic should only supplement the fiber you're already getting in your diet. "Five grams per day of a prebiotic supplement blend is ideal for most people. It should enhance your eating regimen not replace," explains Bodgen. (Note that getting an approximate 5-gram dose in one serving of a supplement often requires taking it in powder form mixed with water or a smoothie).
All of the options below offer a dose within that approximate range and include one or more of the prebiotic types mentioned above. Just remember that you should always speak with your own doctor first before starting any new supplement.
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1. The basic prebiotic
This highly rated and budget-friendly prebiotic powder can easily be mixed into coffee, smoothies, or even plain water (reviewers noted that it has a very subtle, sweet taste). It contains two dietitian-approved prebiotics, inulin and FOS, which work to enrich and nourish the gut microbiome. It's also free of gluten, soybeans, dairy, eggs, nuts, and shellfish. The product's parent company Beneo is based in Europe and known for their digestive health offerings.
Each scoop contains 3 grams of prebiotic fiber, and it's recommended that you take one to two scoops per day.
One helpful review: "Easy to mix in water and actually tastes nice, as if you put a pinch of sugar in the water. I assumed it would make the water thick like sludge, but it doesn't really at all. Very pleasant and easy to take in large quantities if your gut doesn't have a hard time with it (mine doesn't). Nice to know I am boosting my good bugs with so little effort. Good buy too."
2. The prebiotic and probiotic combo
If you're looking for the convenience of taking a prebiotic and probiotic together, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better option than Trust Your Gut from Ora, which is USDA-certified organic and formulated without gluten, soy, or dairy. It comes in powder form with a tasty lavender lemonade flavor, and it's packed with a prebiotic blend of Jerusalem artichokes and tapioca oligosaccharide. In terms of the probiotic offerings, it contains 20 billion CFUs of six different key bacterial strains (Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium) that are grown in the U.S.
One scoop contains 4.5 grams of the prebiotic blend. To take, mix the scoop with 1.5 ounces of water or add it to a smoothie.
For those seeking a pill instead of a powder, this brand also offers prebiotic/probiotic blend in capsule form, though it has notably less prebiotic fiber.
One helpful review: "Tasty! I could drink this by the gallon. It does have a subtle floral flavor to it with the lavender flavoring. [...] I drink mine with water and it dissolves completely just by stirring with a spoon. No need to blend. Note that the dry ingredients will separate due to different weights and particle size. [...] Taste is only secondary though. What I like most is that this supplement has six strains of probiotics, with prebiotics for them to flourish."
3. The gummy prebiotic
For those looking for a hassle-free option, these easy-to-take, vegan gummy prebiotics are the way to go. They're apple flavored, though notably free of artificial colors or additives, and they come loaded with both inulin and chicory root extract (which also contains inulin). They're free of gluten, sugar, dairy, nuts, seafood, and soy, and are made in an FDA-approved and GMP-compliant facility. Each gummy contains 5.85 grams of prebiotic fiber.
The brand also offers a probiotic gummy that can easily be paired with this prebiotic.
One helpful review: "I have tried other name brand fiber gummies and I have had a lot of hard time chewing them. These taste great, easy to chew and give me prebiotics which I need for my colon health. These are now my go to fiber supplement."
4. The prebiotic you can take on-the-go
For those who are frequently on the go, this unflavored prebiotic powder from BIMUNO comes in convenient sachets that can be easily stashed in your bag or pocket. Though the packets are small, they come with prebiotics sourced from galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS) that have been proven to be particularly helpful at boosting bifidobacteria in the gut.
It's recommended that you take half a sachet per day, so even though each one contains a total of 2.9 grams of GOS, you'd be getting only 1.45 grams daily; this is on the lighter end of the spectrum in terms of potency. Since the GOS is sourced from milk, this option is not dairy-free or vegan, but it is free from gluten as well as artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives.
One helpful review: "Um...where did my IBS go? I cannot believe how much better I am. A few weeks ago I was in so much pain. I added this to my probiotic and what a difference. My stomach is acting normal. I still need psyllium sometimes but the pain and gas are gone!"
Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD at Nutrition à la Natalie
Alex Turnbull, RD, and advisor to Jetson Probiotics
Kylene Bogden, RD, advisor to Love Wellness